In this era of globalisation, these islands remain one of the few places in the UK which retain a true sense of 'otherness'. For centuries this archipelago was a Norse colony, but there were people here long before the Vikings. . . .
There are almost 3000 Neolithic sites on Orkney alone, including Skara Brae, the best preserved prehistoric village in Northern Europe, whose foundations were laid thousands of years before the birth of Christ.
The Shetlands has a long arts and crafts tradition. Inspired by the region's dramatic scenery, heritage and culture, local artisans produce a unique range of woodcraft, textiles, jewellery and leatherwork.
The distinct musical tradition of the area is manifest in a unique style of fiddle playing – a heady spiritual amalgam of old fairy tunes, Scots melodies and wild Norse strains. World-renowned exponents of Shetland music include Tom Anderson and Aly Bain while, more recently, new artists like Catronia Macdonald, Fiddlers Bid and Filska have been making their mark.
All of this – and much more besides – is celebrated at the St Magnus Festival, Orkney's annual arts celebration. Since its inception in 1977 the festival has been widely regarded as one of the most exciting and adventurous arts festivals in the UK, and has attracted international talent like Andre Previn, guitarist Julian Bream and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Add to this, miles of stunning, unspoilt beaches and the area becomes a 'must visit' for anyone truly wishing to get away from it all.